Chetco River gold mining may threaten salmon

A recent application by Chetco River Mining & Explorations, LLC proposes to mine for gold between river miles 14 and 38 on the Chetco River in southern Oregon including sites within the Kalmiopsis Wilderness and Federal Wild and Scenic designated portions of the Chetco River. The Chetco and its substrate is critical habitat for the Southern Oregon/ Northern California Coho ESU.

Coho are present only in small numbers in the watershed and their fry and yearling are particularly vulnerable to manmade disturbances in watersheds. The reason for this is that while the majority of Oregon fall chinook migrate almost immediately upon yolk absorption to estuary habitats, coho remain in freshwater for approximately 18 months before heading to sea. This is one reason why Oregon coho are in so much trouble while chinook persist in relative abundance.

The company plans to use an 8” suction dredge to temporarily remove up to 177 cubic meters of gravel from the Chetco annually passing it through a sluice and back into the river. The mining is proposed at nine existing placer gold mine claims. Because the claims were in existence in 1983, mining activities are permitted to continue even within the Wilderness and Wild and Scenic areas.

In addition to impacting threatened coho, the proposal will also impact spawning habitat for fall chinook and winter steelhead.

With the price of gold on the rise, we are likely to see more attempts such as this one on rivers throughout the state, particularly in southern Oregon.

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